Sunday, July 31, 2016

Politics, Spirituality and Silence

Politics, Spirituality and Silence

Years ago, when I was on retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York, I was walking about keeping the required silence. I came across a simple piece of art in a hallway written in exquisite calligraphy that said “Silence is the guardian of charity”. I stopped and thought about that for a while and wondered about the number of times I had used a hasty word or two and when others in my family or in my circle of friends had also used hasty words. There can be hurt, harm, and worse, there can be insult and injury. Carry that out far enough, and sharp words can lead to even more serious consequences, like actions that incite violence and even warfare.

As I thought about family history and world events I thought about the value of silence and how the keeping of it can guard the peace and kindle compassion and charity among human beings. I thought about the pursuit of justice among and between various races, ethnicities, nationalities, even in our more intimate relationships. Gender relationships are often strained and folks of various orientation can find themselves marginalized by thoughtless, insensitive and hasty words. Yes, silence is indeed the guardian of charity.

I thought of the art of listening to one another, and now, especially after the last two weeks of oratory in Cleveland and Philadelphia, I find myself "listened out". A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook in which a large red circle was drawn. Green represented the number of times your opinion changed the opinion of someone else who disagrees with you. Red represented the times your opinions changed nothing at all but managed merely to incite anger in both the the writer and the reader. There was only the angry color of red in the circle.

Conversation is a lost art form particularly in our political life, it would seem. And yet, when practiced toward perfection, conversation can become a vehicle in which the ministry of reconciliation can occur. 

When I lived in Toronto, I remember living with a family while I attended college. In exchange for babysitting, I had a room and meals. It was a good deal. What struck me most about living with this particular family, though, was that during the evening meal there was a lengthy ritual of conversation. As the family sat down to dinner, the father of the family would preside. He happened to be the Department Chair of Greek and Latin Classics at the University of Toronto. He would call upon his children to share the events of the day. Sometimes it required a bit of encouragement. Sometimes it took a great deal of encouragement. But eventually he was able to elicit a good story or two from each of us as we recounted the events of the day. He was a masterful educator. He listened with care, he supported his children, he probed their thoughts he supported them and then he’d often challenge them to think more deeply and more critically about the convictions they were beginning to form. Dinner lasted for hours, particularly as we lingered over tea and biscuits. 

It was not an eat and run kind of family, but we have become more and more, an eat and run kind of society. We are more and more a fast food nation. We are very, very busy. 

Many years after college, I came to learn that in conflict management, listening is a primary skill. It takes time to listen. It takes a willingness to be quiet; to be silent. We have to slow down to hear each other. To listen, we have to suspend our own opinions for a space of time. Listening is hard work.
To help with the management of the communication process, I learned a convenient strategy. We called it the LAPS strategy. The acronym stood for four words:
Let me suggest to you that to listen means to repeat what the speaker says and to check that you have heard correctly. You may be surprised how often you will need to hear it repeated because you don’t always listen carefully enough, especially the first time or two.
Perhaps even more difficult will be to allow what the speaker says. You may vehemently disagree for instance, but how can you really show that you care about what anybody says unless you allow them the right to say it?
However, once you get past the first two parts of the strategy then you can probe what the speaker says. This is often when the speaker gets to hear himself/herself and often begins to wonder just a little bit about their convictions. They begin to hear themselves speak. In its better moments, probing, can yield insight to all involved in the communication process.
Then to show that you have the courage to listen, find something to support in what has been said. With any amount of imagination you can find something in what is said with which you can agree.
By the way, this method of communication can be useful in marriage counseling or any other conflict situation. 
Nevertheless what it takes to listen is to:

Now that you have taken the time to listen to the "other" it is your turn to speak. Can your counterpart extend the same courtesy to you that you extended to them? This is the essential justice question in any conversation.

For a parliamentary system to work we will need to learn how to listen to one another. The word parliament is based, as many of you know, on the French word, “parler”, to speak. It is easy to speak. It is harder by far to listen. Listening requires spiritual discipline. The idea of parliament, whether it is in Britain, Europe, The United States or the United Nations, is to provide a vehicle for us to share ideas, concerns and interests. It is the hope of diplomats the world over, that when we sit down at the table to reason together, we can avoid conflict and warfare. Sometimes that works. Tragically, sometimes it does not.

In today's Gospel, Jesus finds himself in a situation in which he is called upon to be an arbiter in a family dispute. Interestingly he uses the occasion to teach us about our relationship to our worldly goods and verses our relationship to matters of more consequence, such as our accountability to God and to one another. As Jesus clearly says; "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Paul follows up with his encouragement to seek the things that are above. He says;  "But now you must get rid of all such things-- anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth." Really? Paul must have been listening in to some political speech making in his own time to come up with that turn of phrase.

There is hope you see. 

It sometimes takes silence. It always takes the skill of listening. Paul says that "There is a better way" when we "seek the things that are above". The ministry of reconciliation has been entrusted to us, according to Paul.~2 Corinthians 5:18. Jesus blessed the peacemakers.~Matthew 5:9. The dangers of these ministries are well documented. And while it is clear to me which of the two presidential candidates more faithfully represents Gospel values, I believe that what is even more important than my conviction is finding the pathway to peace and the route to reconciliation. 

Now that all the hoopla of the political conventions is over, a moment of prayerful silence is in order. After all, “silence is the guardian of charity”. And if we are to make our way back to a viable Golden Age of democracy we’ll need to learn to how to hold conversation. Such a discipline will require all the spiritual resources we can muster. 

May God grant us each a part to play in this sacred and holy ministry.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Child's Gospel in Chelsea

A Child's Gospel in Chelsea

Friday night Cindy and I went to see our son Michael. He sings with an internationally renowned all male a cappella group called Chanticleer. They are based in San Francisco but travel all over the United States, Europe, China, and most recently South America. You can probably tell I’m proud a proud papa. Twelve male voices singing music from the Renaissance to American Folk to a specially commissioned contemporary classic idiom. It was a wonderful concert. We were in Rockport at the Shalin Liu Performance Center. What a uniquely, special venue, overlooking the sea at the setting of the sun. A small intimate space where every word, every tone, every note is audible to the well trained ear. I could hear Michael's voice distinctly. Thank God I still have my hearing. 

After the concert, we went to the car and on the way, Michael said; “So dad, what have you been up to?” I had little to say. I was preoccupied with my feelings of joy and pride in him and the members of the choral group many of whom we have come to know quite well. I didn’t know what to say, to tell you the truth.

But he knows who I am. I’m just a simple parish priest; nothing more, nothing less. It is the joy of my life to live out my days in service to Jesus and the people Jesus died for. That would be everyone!

This week, for instance, I was faced with this challenge. Go to St. Luke’s, Chelsea and provide a worship experience for about 25 primary school age inner-city children. They are part of the B-Safe program of the Diocese of Massachusetts. How shall I proclaim the Gospel to these children, I asked myself?

By the way, the B-Safe Program has been organized by our Diocese to provide a safe place for youngsters all across inner city neighborhoods in and around Boston. Eleven locations and over 800 youngsters, staff and volunteers work every day to provide these safe places for these children. You and I know it is a dangerous world out there. Every year tens of thousands die from violence, many of them children. For the church to organize itself in such a way around the timely and urgent needs of our young people is a very impressive ministry. And, by the way, thank you for your wonderful support, Church of the Good Shepherd. Julie’s car was packed with good things to eat for these kids. She and others were there to help serve lunch. 

When I arrived at St. Luke’s/San Lucas in Chelsea, over 80 people filled the parish hall. Boisterous, vibrant, lively faces and voices of precious young filled the place. Finally it was time after lunch to go into the church for worship. 25-30 came into the church with me. They were good as gold. I was impressed with their reverent, respectful behavior.

I began by showing them how a priest prepares for church;
First I put on my alb and remember that we we all “put on” Jesus every day as we do our clothing and remind ourselves of the Joy of Jesus and the Purity of his love. 
I girded myself with my cincture and said that this rope reminds me that Jesus makes us strong with the power of God. 
I placed the stole over my shoulders to show that we carry Jesus with us; his yoke is easy, his burden is light. 
I placed the cross of Jesus carefully over my heart and invited the children to remember that God gives us eternal life through every difficulty, every sadness, every fear and every joy in life.

The children watched carefully. One of the teens asked me about the symbolism on my stole. I pointed to the wheat that represents bread, the grapes that represent wine and the Alpha and the Omega represent the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. After all, Jesus is the beginning and the ending, the author and the finisher of our faith. Even the teenagers were now fully engaged in the unfolding worship experience.

We sang a somewhat silly song then, one I have loved through the years.

Words and Music by Brian M. Howard

If I were a butterfly
I'd thank you Lord for giving me wings
If I were a robin in a tree 
I'd thank you Lord that I could sing
If I were a fish in the sea
I'd wiggle my tail and I'd giggle with glee
But I just thank you Father for making me, me

For you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile
You gave me Jesus and you made me your child
And I just thank you Father for making me, me

If I were an elephant 
I'd thank you Lord by raising my trunk
If I were a kangaroo
You know I'd hop, hop, hop right up to you
If I were an octopus
I'd thank you Lord for my good looks
But I just thank you Father for making me, me

If I were a wiggly worm
I'd thank you Lord that I could squirm
If I were a fuzzy, wuzzy bear
I'd thank you Lord for my fuzzy, wuzzy hair
If I were a crocodile 
I'd thank you Lord for my great smile
But I just thank you Father for 
making me, me
Then we prayed for our families and friends. Many of the children mentioned particular concerns and several mentioned a grandparent who had “gone to heaven”. Again there was a sacred silence in the place. 

Then it was  time for a story. I told them a simple Gospel story in my own words based on this week’s Gospel. It was much like the way my grandmother told Bible stories. They came from her heart to mine. From God’s heart to ours.

I said; 
“One day there was a little boy and a little girl who were very hungry and they went to their friends and said, ‘Gosh, we’re hungry, do you have something for us to eat?’ ‘The friends said, ‘Of course we do, and they put out all the food they had and shared everything with the hungry boy and girl.’” They had such a good time together

On the same day another boy and girl were very hungry and they went to their friends and said the same thing; “Gosh, we’re hungry. Do you have anything for us to eat?” This time their friends said “No, we're  keeping all my food to ourselves” The little boy and girl went away very sad, and very very hungry.

I asked the children; “Who do you think was Jesus to the hungry boy and girl? In one voice, they all said “The one who gave them something to eat.”

"Right, you are", I said.

So, then I asked the children to come with me to God’s Holy Table. We gathered around the Altar. I asked them to cozy up with me there. Again they were good as gold. I lit the candles on the altar. They were especially quiet and reverent. I took the bread on the altar and told them that on the night before Jesus died for us, he took the bread and lifted it up toward heaven. As I lifted the bread on high, I said, see the cross? When the priest lifts the bread up like Jesus did he looks at the cross to remember what Jesus did for us. There is an especially beautiful cross at St. Luke’s in Chelsea. Jesus on the cross with his mother to the one side and Mary Magdalene to the other. It took a little while for all the children to see what I saw, but I encouraged them to look way up, way high, and then when they all saw what I saw. I continued.

Then Jesus blessed the bread and said "this is my body which is given for you". Imagine, he gave his life for you. I then shared the bread with the children in that sacred and holy place where we all huddled close together in the presence of the Risen Christ.

You could hear a pin drop.

We said the Lord’s prayer together

And then we sang one more song.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
As He loved so long ago,
Taking children on His knee,
Saying, “Let them come to Me.”

Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way,
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live.

Jesus loves me! He who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.

Jesus loves me! He will stay
Close beside me all the way;
You who gave your life for me,
I will henceforth live for Thee.

This, by the way, is the song I sing to the dying softly in their ears as they near the end.

So yes Michael my son. I am just a simple parish priest. My church, my Diocese is spending this summer keeping 800 youngsters out of harm’s way at least for a few hours every day.

As for me, what I love more than anything is to bring folks into the knowledge that God’s love has been made known to us in Jesus. As we remember him in that special way we do at God’s own Holy Table, we come close to God. Jesus dwells within us. We dwell in Jesus.

Yes, Michael this is what I have been up to. I wish I thought to tell him that Friday night.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity.

Fr Paul

Monday, July 18, 2016

Curse the Darkness or Light a Candle?

Shall We Light a Candle?

Thank God we have two Baptisms today, that’s all I can say. What with everything else that is going on in the world, it might be easier to curse the darkness. But not when it comes to Baptisms. And especially not when it comes to the Baptisms of these particular two babies.
     Clara Lorraine Greeley 
     Benjamin Thomas Neville

How can we but light a candle when it comes to Baptism? It is what we do as Christian folk. It is among the first things we do every Sunday as we prepare for worship; we light candles on the altar. At a Baptism we light the Paschal Candle in honor of the Risen Jesus. Then we light a candle as part of the ritual itself; one for each of the newly Baptized. They like we become part of the Body of Christ, the Church, as Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle. 

On this day we remember our Baptismal Covenant. Among other things, we ask the question. “Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” 

The answer seems obvious. But not so fast. What of those who hate us? What of those who kill us? Or kill our friends and family? How do we stop making war on our enemies if we seek to answer such a question in the affirmative? How do we deal with our fears and terrors? Our anger and rage? Our hatred and need for reprisal. They kill our thousands. We kill their hundreds of thousands. Al Quida becomes ISIL. We curse the darkness. The downward spiral leads us all further and further into the abyss.

How do we become peacemakers in a world so engulfed in the ravages of war and terror? The manufacture of the weapons of war and the trade in these same weapons puts the means for violence in the hands of any who get hold of them. The purveyors of hate, warmongers, terrorists are only too willing to use the weaponry. 

Look into the face of this slain police officer and his child. They can no longer see one another on this side. Curse the darkness? Light a candle? This is the defining choice of our time. 

A peacemaker’s life is a dangerous one. Still, shall I capitulate to evil and curse the darkness? Or shall I light a candle, however dim that light may be, or however easily extinguished by the stormy winds of human hatred. Shall I curse the darkness or light a candle? A very dangerous choice to make to tell you the truth.

Look at Jesus.

Look at him in today’s Gospel reading. Mary hung on every word. His words, his ideas, his approach to the violent world he lived in was so different. She had to listen closely to try to understand. But Martha was distracted by many things. Things that had to get done. And Jesus didn’t seem to care about Martha’s situation. Jesus told Martha that Mary chose the better part.

What is the better part? We can be easily distracted especially in the midst of the events of our present and dangerous world. We may acknowledge that it is necessary, to kill those who kill. Is this our distraction? Are these things necessary?

How can we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus? The forgiveness he proclaims, his reconciling work, the love he personifies in his very body and being? Look what it cost him? What will it cost us to light a candle with our lives? How can we let our light so shine before others that they may see our good work and give Glory to God? What will it cost us to be the salt of the earth?

How we answer questions like these will depend on Who we think we are answerable to. The Gospel claim is that we are answerable to our love for God and our love for one another. We are answerable to Jesus, the Love of God made flesh and blood. This is what makes us unique in human history. For God is love.

If it is true, that God is love then that changes everything. Today in these baptisms and every day in their lives and in the lives of all humankind we make our choices. Shall we light a candle? Or shall we curse the darkness?

St Paul makes it so abundantly clear in today’s Epistle. “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
“In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

It was the cross that made peace through the blood of Jesus according to our faith. Imagine a faith like this. This is the faith it takes. It was the life of Jesus that lit that first candle. Then the disciples. Then the generations that followed through the coming and going of thrones, dominions and rulers and powers. The millions upon millions those whose lives have lit their candles down through the ages.

And today we come to these two candles; plus your candle and mine.
Together no darkness can overcome the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We dwell in him and Jesus dwells within us and now we bring into the fellowship of the church these children.

May all the fullness of God be pleased to dwell within them and all of us, since on this day we choose to light a candle and not to curse the darkness.
   And now as we gather at the Baptismal font let us stand and sing Hymn #490 "I want to walk as a child of the light"

In the name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity.

Fr Paul

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Week in Summary: Blessed are the Peacemakers

Blessed are the Peacemakers

The news in summary from Jesus as he might confront the events of this past week; I suspect be might say something like this;
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” ~Matthew 5:9
This is not the news of what did happen, it is the news of what must happen. It is Good News!

The Psalmist says; “I have seen violence and strife in the city”
~Psalm 55:10

From Bagdad to Baton Rouge, from Minnesota to Dallas, dreadful images of violence assault the senses this week. Live and in living color, indelible images of violence are etched in our memories. We are left with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Where shall we turn?

Jesus was confronted with violence and terror. The Parable of the Good Samaritan, by the way, I have often thought, could easily have been a biographical one for Jesus. Geographically, it would be unlikely for a Samaritan to be so far south as the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. 

But what of the road from Nazareth down to the Sea of Galilee where Jesus set up his base of operations? Had he taken this road, he would have gone through an area known as the Horns of Hittim, an area famous for its robbers. Imagine if Jesus had taken such a route. Imagine Jesus, beset by thugs and miscreants, robbed, beaten and left to die. Imagine a priest and a Levite passing by afraid to touch this unclean unfortunate. Then imagine a Samaritan who could easily have passed by the area. Geographically, that would have made more sense since Samaria was not that far away. 

Samaritans were despised by the Jews of the day, imagine him stopping and taking his time, risking his life, bandaging the wounds, and saving the life of Jesus, this most unfortunate and vulnerable of human beings. Imagine the Samaritan taking his hard earned money and providing for him during his recovery.

Imagine if this were Jesus and what an indelible and formative mark this would have left on his life and how God could have used such a moment as this to enflesh what love is and how we are all intended to live it out.

Imagine such a love as this in a violent world. 
Then and now. 
Imagine such a love as this.
A love that breaks all boundaries.

We need to come back to our senses. It is not enough for us to wring our hands as if there is nothing we can do. After all we are called to preach the Gospel and moreover we are called to live the Gospel. So then lets get on with it.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Folks it is as simple as Sunday School. We had to memorize certain portions of Scripture and this was one of the very first and favorite passages to learn by heart; The Beatitudes.

Remember them?

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

These words satisfy something deep within the human soul. It is in the living of these words that God's kingdom is built!

Jesus goes on; 

 ‘You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

We know these words by heart. We know this way of life instinctively. Let us proclaim and live the Gospel of Jesus. The world is desperate to hear the words. The world is desperate to live them. There is no hope or salvation for us unless we live lives like this.

My English teachers used to teach us to “compare and contrast” various passages in literature.

I suggest to you; compare and contrast the words of Jesus to the words we listen to in the news, read in the papers, or hear along the campaign trail. How do they measure up to the words of Jesus?

I find it compelling that Paul begins his letters with these words; “Grace and Peace to you from God our Father”. He goes on to say that God, “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. May I remind you, these folks lived in a dangerous and violent time.

If ever there were a time of rescue from the darkness of violence this would be it. If ever there were a time for redemption and forgiveness, it has arrived. The time is always here and always now.

Peacemakers may be persecuted or killed outright. Dr. Martin Luther King, for instance. I came across his words this week. Timely words for us, for as Black lives matter, so do police lives. All our lives matter; Dr. King wrote;
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
~The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Finally, God knows we need to learn how to live our lives better than we do now. Too much violence. Too much hate.

Black and white,
Arab and Jew
Shea & Sunni Muslim
Rich and poor
Gay and straight
Republican & Democrat
On and on and on it goes.
O for heaven sake, we can do better than this!

The collect for the day asks this simple prayer “grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them”

This week's news in summary; the Good News in summary this week and every week;
"Blessed are the Peacemakers".

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul